Eating for Pleasure


Why do we call the herbs and nutritional formulas we recommend to people, ‘supplements?' Obviously because they are supplements (or useful additions) to a healthy diet. Yet, the way I see some people using supplements, I think they believe that supplements are meant to make up for a poor diet. I've been in this industry long enough to realize that this simply isn't the case. While I do use supplements, I find that without a healthy lifestyle, I can't achieve the high level of wellness I like to maintain.


When many people think of eating healthy, they think of self-deprivation. That is, they think about giving up all the foods they love and eating bland, “rabbit food” or adopting some kind of very restricted diet, such as macrobiotics, vegan, vegetarian, Atkins, etc. I don't know why we're given to such extremes, but we are. Maybe it's part of the language we use. We have to fight disease and we have to work to be healthy. Why can't being healthy just be pleasant and fun?


You see, I've always loved food. I was never a finicky eater as a child, and as a thyroid type, I had a fairly rapid metabolism so I could consume quite a bit of it without gaining weight. My love for food reveals itself in a number of ways.


For starters, I love to grow food. When I've been able to have a garden, it has been a joy both to plant it and to harvest the fruits and vegetables it yielded. One of the reasons I like to garden is because I get to grow varieties that I can't find in the grocery store such as the Chioggia beet (which has white and red concentric rings), golden beets and heirloom potatoes with assorted colors of skin and flesh. My favorite thing about gardening, however, is how wealthy I feel when I'm harvesting my produce. No paycheck has ever made me feel as wealthy as having fresh tomatoes, peppers, squash, carrots, potatoes, beets, etc. from my own garden.


I also love to preserve food. I love to bottle peaches, pears, tomatoes and salsa in particular. I can't purchase food of that quality at the grocery store. (I bottle my peaches and pears in white grape juice so there is no refined sugar, but the flavor of the fruit is beautifully preserved.) This fall I've put up about 24 jars of salsa and about 30 jars of peaches, pears and apples.  I also enjoy drying or pickling food. Again, I feel rich when I've got a pantry full of great food.


But, it doesn't stop there, because I love to cook, too. I'm one of those cooks who doesn't necessarily follow recipes either (although I have plenty of cook books). I tend to be creative and modify recipes or even “invent” new dishes while I'm cooking. I even like to watch the cooking channel, especially the program, Good Eats. (Maybe that's because the star, Alton Brown, is a fellow geek, who combines food history, science, cooking and humor in the same show.)


I love to invite people over for dinner and serve them homemade pizza with whole grain crust, lasagna with whole grain noodles or eggplant Parmesan, stir fries and curries, my lentil burgers, enchiladas or whatever else the mood strikes me to cook. I also love to make cookies, cakes, pies and homemade ice cream. I use whole grains, natural sweeteners, real butter, and organic ingredients where possible. People are always amazed that healthy food can taste so good.


French Women Don't Get Fat


Of course, I love all of the above because I also love to eat. Which is why I really enjoyed a book I recently read called French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. The subtitle really tells what the book is about, “The Secrets of Eating for Pleasure.”


Eating should be pleasurable. In fact, the truth is that eating healthier is extremely pleasurable. I'm much pickier about what I eat now than when I was young, but it isn't just because I like feeling healthy. It's because eating healthy has changed my taste buds and turned me into a sort of “food snob.” So, I'm not really a “health food nut,” I'm a seeker of culinary delights, and that's why I enjoyed this book so much.


As a teenager, Mireille spent a year in the United States as a foreign exchange student, gaining a few extra pounds in the process. When she returned to France, her French doctor didn't put her on some strict diet and exercise regime to get her back to her optimal weight. Instead, he taught her how to become more aware of her relationship with food and to gently modify her approach to eating. As a result, she gradually lost the weight she had gained and learned life-long lessons that have helped her stay healthy and maintain her ideal weight ever since.


From this book, I gained an interesting insight into the cultural eating habits that have influenced my own approach to food. For starters, anytime you tell yourself you can't have something, you create mental obsession. Mireille explains that the French love food, but approach it differently than we do in the U.S. Farmer's markets are well patronized in France. People are more interested in quality food.


Many Americans, I've noticed, want to buy the cheapest food they can find as a way of “saving money” and being frugal. Cheap food is never a bargain because it robs you of energy and clouds your mental capacity. Besides, the empty calories of cheap food only lead you to want to eat more as your body urges you to eat bigger portions in search of the nutrients it needs.


Quality, Not Quantity


Quality, not quantity needs to be our focus, when it comes to food, and your guide to quality isn't in some textbook. It's in your own five senses. Learn to shop for food with your senses. Learn to use your senses as you prepare and consume food, too. When I'm shopping for produce I'm not just looking, I'm feeling and smelling the fruits and vegetables. If it doesn't smell right it isn't going to taste right.


I think that the biggest reason most people aren't eating as many fruits and vegetables as they should is because of supermarket produce. I have a hard time finding decent produce at the grocery store (except in the organic section). Put bluntly, most of the produce in a grocery store is tasteless garbage. The carrots are woody and bland, the tomatoes are flavorless, and the fruits were picked too green to allow the flavor to fully develop. All this is done, not for the consumer, but for the needs of big business in being able to grow varieties that store and ship well.


Tomatoes and other fruits, for example, are picked green so they will keep during shipping. Thus, the full flavor and sweetness of the fruit is never allowed to develop. That's why it needs to be sweetened with sugar to be made edible. It's hard to find decent fruit anymore and nearly impossible to find a decent tomato unless you grow it yourself or buy it from a local produce stand.


I remember one time when I was living in Roosevelt, UT, that I steamed some organic red chard I'd purchased when I was in Salt Lake City (over 100 miles away). It tasted so good I was craving more chard so I went to the local grocery store and bought some commercially grown chard. When I cooked it, it tasted so bad I couldn't eat it.


And, it isn't just produce. Eggs are another problem. Although I don't have any now, I've raised chickens before and had fresh eggs from chickens that were allowed to scratch around the yard and eat bugs. The eggs have dark orange yolks, firm whites, and hard shells in contrast to the thin shelled, runny and pale grocery store varieties. And the taste, well, there's no comparison.


I could go on with more and more examples. The organic chicken tastes like chicken is supposed to taste and I can eat it plain and enjoy it, whereas a commercially raised chicken has to be smothered in some type of sauce or seasoning before I can stand the flavor. Ever tasted organic, grass fed beef? How about real strawberries, freshly picked from the garden?


The simple truth is, that flavor is a sign of quality. For me, it doesn't have to be organically grown necessarily, it just has to be good quality. (I think that's one of the things I like about Alton Brown on Good Eats; he always tells you how to pick out quality ingredients.) If you want to know whether the food you're eating is healthy stuff, learn to let your eyes, nose and taste buds be your guides.


A friend sent me an article recently entitled, Why McDonald's Fries Taste so Good. While I could debate the truth of the title, the article was fascinating because it was about the natural and artificial flavoring industry. I learned that whenever a label says natural or artificial flavorings, this means it contains chemical flavoring agents. Natural flavorings are just chemicals extracted from natural sources (i.e., there is nothing natural about them).


What really shocked me was when I read that the reason we find natural and artificial flavorings in food is because processed food tastes so bad that no one would eat it if it wasn't artificially flavored. In other words, they have to deceive your senses in order to trick your body into thinking the food is good for you. So, whenever you see “natural flavoring” or “artificial flavoring” on the label, think, “If this food wasn't tricking my senses, I wouldn't touch it because it would taste so bad. Sobering thought, isn't it?


Food should taste good and eating healthy should be a pleasurable experience. Mireille points out that the French enjoy wine, wonderful breads, chocolate and many other treats, but they eat smaller portions and spend more time eating. They tend to savor and relish what they are eating, rather than wolf it down on the run. In other words, they take the time enjoy what they are eating.


Since reading this book, I've slowed down when I eat. I'm taking more time to savor the flavors, aromas and colors of what I'm eating. And guess what? I find that I'm satisfied with less food! I'm also indulging my passion for food by creating more colorful “plates” when I'm fixing food by adding little garnishments and increasing the variety (but reducing the quantity) of foods I'm eating at each meal.


There are lots of other tips, recipes and helpful advice you'll find in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to eat healthier without sacrificing flavor and pleasure.